Ah we come to what can be one of the most slippery of all the subjects in Game Design, the story. Does a game need it? And does it make it a better game?
Well to question 1 – No, but it depends on the game and to 2 – yes, but at the same time no.
Still here? Guess I best elaborate then!
Now on to the messy confusing bits, does a game need a story, no it doesn’t, there are a lot of games that don’t need a story, or they only need something that is loosely made, something that doesn’t jump into the players face all the time. And there are some games in which the need for story is so great, that without it would make the game a chore and more punishment than a form of pleasure.
For example games like Battlefield 2, Counterstrike Source, Team Fortress 2 are all multiplayer games that have no story and have no need for it, the players have fun by just playing it and any story behind it beyond “there’s the other team, go kill” would just get in the way. (Please note all are online games)
While games like World of Warcraft, Aion and RF online have a loose story, its there if you want it, but you don’t need it to play the game. (We’ll come back later to this, just make note that these are all MMORPG Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game)
But most games do require story, games like Fear 2, Final Fantasy 12, Nexus: The Jupiter Incident and other games need it to make it a good game, without it, it would just make the game boring as hell.
Why the difference between these games and the others? Because they are single player based, a game for a single person rather than several, yes some have multiplayer features but they are not the main part of the game, without the story in Fear 2, you have no idea why this little girl appears and scares the hell out of you, why in Final Fantasy 12 your stealing an airship and why in Nexus: TJI you are trying to rescue this ship.
Because without it, the game is boring, confusing and often frustrating, this is because the game needs the player to have a working knowledge of the world he is in to make informed decisions and without that knowledge, he has no idea what to do and what’s going on!
So why don’t the others need it? Well they are all multiplayer games, designed with more than 1 person in mind so they must tailor the game so that the experience a player has is with a group, not a single individual. But there is story in these games, where you ask? In the situations that the players get themselves into, on purpose or accident. Instead of a characters plight, the stories that the players make for themselves are often more enjoyable than those made for them.
Now onto the 2nd question does a story make a better game, this is most definitely no, there are plenty of games that have a story and yet it is what ruins the game. Enchanted Arms is a RPG for the Xbox 360, the story is based on your character having a special arm, which is capable of destroying Golems easily, his friend has been kidnapped and he is trying to save him. Simple enough, good games have similar stories to them, so this one should work?
Nope not in the least as the story written makes a complete hash at character interaction, plot development and the final ending is down right horrible. The real problem lies with the lines spoken by the characters, since the game is developed in Japan, its possible that the Japanese wouldn’t find the lines so bad, but to me a westerner, someone who has been brought up in English, knows its syntax, grammar and form better than many born English speakers, it makes me want to cry every time a character opens his or her gob.
But why does Super Mario Galaxies work, when it doesn’t have a solid plot and this doesn’t? Its because Super Mario Galaxies gameplay, is fun to the point that it makes up for the lack of plot. While Enchanted Arms is the opposite, the gameplay isn’t fun enough that you would want to play without a good story to drive you.